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Columbia officially kicks off National Small Business Week

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Small businesses are the lifeblood of a thriving community. Encouraging their formation, growth and success is an imperative, ongoing mission.

That was the message delivered Monday afternoon, as civic leaders gathered at the Columbia Chamber of Commerce to officially launch National Small Business Week in the city.

Columbia has participated in the national event since 2012. This year, the Chamber will play host panels detailing contracting opportunities, a salute to small businesses, and a golf tournament as part of the week-long observation.

“Small businesses are vibrant and a strong economic force all across this nation,” Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin said Monday. “They are uniquely positioned to help us build Columbia into what we know it can and should be.”

Community leaders including Richland County Council Chairman Torrey Rush, Tom Felder, chairman of the city’s Small and Minority Business Advisory Council, and Chamber President and CEO Carl Blackstone echoed that message.

“The seminars we put on, the mentorships that we provide – (they increase) the ability to connect dots for folks,” Blackstone said. “In the small business world, there’s so many rules and regulations that you just don’t know about until you dig in. You can have the best business model in the world, but you’re not fully prepared for 100 percent of the hurdles that you’ve got to jump through. So we’re a resource. As much as we can help small business, we’d like to do that.”

According to 2014 figures, there were 28.2 million small businesses in the United States in 2011. Small businesses made up 99.7% of U.S. employer firms, accounted for 63% of net new private-sector jobs, and provided 48.5% of private-sector employment nationwide. In South Carolina, small businesses employed 743,262 people, or 46.9% of the private workforce, in 2013, according to the Census Bureau’s Statistics of U.S. Businesses.

“Healthy small businesses serve as the foundation for the stable and strong economy in our region, and our Chamber provides the oxygen to make this happen,” Felder said.

A particular area of focus of National Small Business Week is women-owned businesses, said Lee Catoe, the Chamber’s vice president of community affairs and small business engagement.

A June 2015 article in Fortune magazine found that women-owned businesses grew 74% between 1997 and 2015 – 1.5 times the national average. Businesses owned by African-American women grew 322%, making black women the country’s fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs.

“When we look at small and minority businesses, one of the critical pieces is that of women-owned businesses,” Catoe said. “Historically, women-owned businesses tend not to survive as strongly. One of the reasons is not having the opportunity to network like we’re doing here. But as a result of our advisory council, we are improving the rate tremendously.”

Catoe, a state government veteran, saw a need to bolster small businesses during decades spent traveling around South Carolina.

“The biggest problem small businesses have is access, and the second one is capital,” Catoe said. The aim of the week-long series of events is to increase opportunities for both through networking.

“I tell you what my company does, you tell me what your company does, and there may be a possibility that we can develop some business,” Catoe said.

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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